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Article about Inner City Press' Delaware FOIA case - also on AP

Copyright 2003 The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)
All Rights Reserved
The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)

November 27, 2003 Thursday


LENGTH: 900 words

HEADLINE: Lawsuit challenges records law in Del.



Nonresidents denied access

By MARY ALLEN Staff reporter

A New York-based consumer activist has filed a federal lawsuit that claims Delaware's open-records law is unconstitutional because it gives only Delawareans access to the state's public records.

Matthew Lee wants the U.S. District Court in Wilmington to declare that provision of Delaware's Freedom of Information Act illegal and bar Delaware officials from enforcing it. He sued Attorney General M. Jane Brady, whose office twice this year refused his requests for information on a consumer-lending investigation based on his state citizenship, and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who is responsible for executing and administering state laws.

Delaware's role as a corporate and banking hub in a global economy makes accountability for state government and its politicians critical, Lee said this week. "They are elected by Delawareans, but they need to be transparent to people all over the country because that's who they are affecting," he said.

Delaware is one of only seven states, including neighbors Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia, whose public-records laws explicitly include a citizenship requirement, based on a review of all 50 states' laws through the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The case marks the first time anyone has challenged Delaware's citizenship provision, said Lori Sitler, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

Sitler would not comment on the allegations in Lee's lawsuit. "It is our job to defend state statutes passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor," she said.

Minner spokesman Gregory Patterson said the governor's office has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Lee works as executive director of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, a nonprofit consumer organization in New York City's South Bronx. He writes stories on predatory and discriminatory lending practices of banks and financial services companies on the organization's Web site and in publications such as U.S. Banker magazine.

He said he also researches public records to prepare testimony and comments for banking and insurance regulators on proposed mergers and other regulatory matters worldwide.

Lee requested documents in January related to how and why states reached a settlement with lender Household International in 2002. The $484 million agreement settled a multistate investigation into alleged consumer lending abuses. Of 46 states he queried, he said, only Delaware refused to supply records because he was not a resident of the state. Even Virginia, Pennsylvania and Arkansas cooperated, despite citizenship requirements in their laws.

Another request made just to Delaware in September was also refused. That sought more records on the settlement and other documents to explore potential conflicts of interest in the deal, according to the lawsuit.

Lee decided to sue in Delaware after discussing the situation with attorneys for the Institute for Public Representation, a public interest law clinic at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

"Any other state that sees this is going to want to avoid protracted litigation," said Richard McKewen, one of the institute attorneys involved with the case.

Wilmington attorney Walter S. Rowland, working with the Georgetown attorneys, filed the complaint Monday. It contends the state citizenship requirement violates the privileges and immunities clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That clause says no citizen of one state shall be denied equal opportunity under another state's laws, said David L. Finger, a Wilmington attorney with extensive experience on Freedom of Information Act issues. Finger has previously handled open-records matters for The News Journal and is not involved in this case.

To succeed, he said, Lee will have to show the state open-records law "involves a right that is fundamental to the promotion of interstate harmony and bears upon the vitality of the nation as a single union."

Sitler said that the Attorney General's Office does not track public records requests. She could not say how many have been refused because of the citizenship requirement. She said state agencies also field records requests.

Finger questioned why Delaware lawmakers would have crafted a statute that does not grant everyone access to public information. The law went into effect Jan. 1, 1977.

"I don't understand why it would be written that way," Sen. Robert L. Venables Sr., D-Laurel, said Wednesday. Venables last year voted against a bill that exempted autopsy photographs from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Before he voted, he spoke on the Senate floor on the importance of the public's right to know.

Sen. David McBride, D-Hawks Nest, also opposed that bill. He said this week he would watch Lee's case as it progresses in case the Legislature needs to look at the issue.

"I believe sunshine is the best disinfectant," he said. "I find that highly unusual that the public would not have access."

Finger noted there is nothing in Delaware's law to stop outsiders from having a Delawarean request records for them. But Lee said he does not want to have to "sneak around" for information.

"I don't feel in the public interest of requesting documents we should have to play a game," he said.

Predatory Bender: A Story of Subprime Finance/Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City

Order fastest here

The American Banker

December 1, 2003, Monday


HEADLINE: Washington People, By Damian Paletta

A Novel Dig at Citi

   Who says there's no drama in financial services?  Matthew Lee, general counsel of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, has published a novel titled "Predatory Bender: A Story of Subprime Finance."

  Though the work is fiction (except for a 90-page afterword to the 360-page tale), Mr. Lee draws from his years of challenging bank mergers and lending practices, and appears to blend the images of companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. One section reads: "While ostensibly the fruit of three decades of community struggle, the land beneath the mall was owned by Anguilla-based EmpiBank. The anchor tenant, too, was a part of Empi's empire: a storefront office in the high-rate lender EmpiFinancial. Jack Bender had worked for EmpiBank on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, the so-called Queen City."

   Hitting his favorite target again, Mr. Lee said Tuesday that his group would fight Citigroup's deal, announced last week, to buy Washington Mutual Inc.'s consumer lending unit.

LOAD-DATE: November 28, 2003

Predatory Bender / Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City

ISBN 0-9740244-1-4, 456 pages, endnotes

Library of Congress Control Number: 2003111283

Price: $19.95, trade paperback, 6 x 9

Available for sale on,,, etc.

Distributed by Ingram Books Contact: 718-716-3540,

    This website has sub-pages on a variety of issues, including a Citgroup Watch, a Bank of America Watch, and more generally, weekly reports on community reinvestment, environmental justice, global / human rights; insurance redlining, telecommunications advocacy, arts and culture. We welcome your suggestions or comments on this website, or on our work. for five different ways to contact us, click here.

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For ongoing, up-to-the-minute advocacy journalism, click here for Inner City Press, and a map

Off-site:  "New Haven Savings Bank Changes Merit Students' Attention," by Matthew Lee, Yale Daily News, October 23, 2003

Off-site and stuffy: U.S. Banker, May 2001: Federal Reserve - Big Talk, Little Action, (incl. on predatory lending)

On a lighter note, click here to view  poem (doggerel) on Citigroup, "Song of Solomon [Brothers]," on the site...

Campaign Finance Reform in The Bronx (Gotham Gazette, April 3, 2000)

Community Reinvestment Act Weakened by Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (Shelterforce, Dec. 1999)

   Click here for news on Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch campaigns against predators

Inner City Press -- we've written (and published) the book on fighting predatory lending

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These pages copyright 1999 - 2003 Inner City Press/Community on the Move, Inc. and Inner City Public Interest Law Center.   All rights reserved.  For further information, or to request reprint or other permission, contact: Permissions Coordinator, Legal Administration, Inner City Press, P.O. Box 580188, Mount Carmel Station, Bronx, NY 10458.  Phone: (718) 716-3540.  Fax: (718) 716-3161.  E-mail: mlee [at]